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Michigan Democrats want an audit of signatures submitted by Republican Senate candidates

The Michigan Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Friday called on the state's election officials to investigate whether three Republican U.S. Senate candidates and another who dropped out of the race submitted forged or otherwise fraudulent signatures on the ones they submitted submitted nomination petitions.

The Free Press obtained a copy of the letter that attorneys for the groups and a Michigan voter, Emily Judd, sent to the Board of State Canvassers. It said an “initial review” of petitions from former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash and businessman Sandy Pensler, as well as petitions from former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, who has since left the race “Patterns indicating the presence of potential forgeries and other fraudulent signature gathering tactics.”

If an investigation is conducted and it is found that one of the candidates has fewer than 15,000 valid signatures, they could be removed from the August 6 primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D., becomes free -Mich.

The Democratic groups issued statements and released the letter around the same time the Free Press story was published online Friday afternoon. Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said, “The apparent fraud that has been uncovered requires an immediate investigation” and that the state elections office and election commission “should live up to their responsibility to protect the integrity of Michigan's elections and conduct a full, thorough investigation.” to carry out.”

Rogers' campaign spokesman Chris Gustafson called the letter an “anti-democratic ploy” orchestrated by allies of U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Holly, the Democratic front-runner for the Senate nomination, and noted that she is due to sign the petition on her own .

House Energy and Commerce Committee member Mike Rogers (R-MI) questions Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the problematic launch of the Healthcare.gov website on October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC.

House Energy and Commerce Committee member Mike Rogers (R-MI) questions Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the problematic launch of the Healthcare.gov website on October 30, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Pensler aide Stu Sandler also sharply criticized the proposal, saying, “Democrats can't beat Republicans at the ballot box, so it looks like they're trying to shut Republicans out of the election.”

“Sandy Pensler submitted over 26,000 signatures. He is clearly qualified for the vote, which is why a timely challenge was not filed,” he said. The deadline for challenging petition signatures expired at the end of last month.

If the claims of possible fraud were investigated and found to be true, it could have a huge impact on the Senate race. Rogers is considered the GOP's front-runner, having received the support of former President Donald Trump. If all candidates whose signatures Democrats question were removed from the ballot, West Michigan doctor Sherry O'Donnell, the least-known Republican candidate, would continue to run for the open seat.

Meijer told the Free Press that his campaign went to great lengths to validate signatures, but acknowledged that it would be difficult to capture every potentially questionable sheet or signature given the number of people involved. He said he supports the attorney general and the Michigan State Police in investigating complaints of misconduct by circulators or candidates, but also said this letter could be Democratic groups “muddying the waters” ahead of the primary.

The Democratic groups said they included Meijer in their request so the board could investigate “the full extent” of the potential fraud, since it used some of the same petition gatherers as the others. Meijer left the Senate race shortly after submitting his signatures for the vote last month.

The groups said up to 433 pages of signatures from random samples of the four candidates' nomination petition sheets involved more than 20 petition collectors or circulators that were part of other petition challenges filed against two judicial candidates – Matthew Ackerman and Lisa Marie Neilson, both are running for the state Court of Appeals — last month.

All of those sheets — 192 for Pensler, 140 for Amash, 82 for Rogers and 19 for Meijer — could contain up to 10 signatures each. However, the groups said this represents only a sample of the total number of leaves that could be involved for each campaign, suggesting it is “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“In light of the evidence of potential fraud uncovered by our initial review, we are calling on the Board to immediately conduct a thorough investigation into the nomination petitions filed by Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pensler, Mr. Amash and Mr. Meijer based on suspected fraud,” the letter said Attorney Christopher Trebilcock of Detroit and members of the Elias Law Group in Washington.

Evidence cited by the Democratic groups as possible evidence of fraud includes:

  • Complete petition sheets submitted by candidates with signatures from different signatories appearing to be in the same handwriting.

  • Sheets purporting to be signed by the same agent, but with different handwriting for their signature and errors in their address and zip code.

  • Duplicate voter signatures were found on nomination petition sheets, purporting to be from the same voter but apparently written in different handwriting.

  • The same voter signs for different candidates, but in different handwriting.

  • Petition sheets filed for various Senate candidates that “look nearly identical” in terms of the voters who signed them.

The lawyers said many of the patterns were consistent with those uncovered in 2022, when five Republican gubernatorial candidates were eliminated from the primary after submitting forged signatures. The issue of the accuracy of petition signatures has continued to plague Michigan politics this year, with a Wayne County elections official issuing a report Thursday saying former state Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, had not submitted enough valid signatures in his challenge of US Rep. Shri Thaendar and should be disqualified from the August primary.

The Democrats' request to the Board of State Canvassers does not constitute a formal challenge because the deadline had passed. However, the letter said it was the panel's “legal duty to review all petitions submitted,” given the patterns the groups claimed to have found. “If, after this investigation, the Board determines that any of the candidates have not submitted the required number of valid petition signatures, those candidates should not be allowed to vote,” the attorneys said.

Contact Todd Spangler: tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@tsspangler. Staff writer ML Elrick contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan Democrats want to audit signatures submitted by Republican Senate candidates

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